While the primary horrors and atrocities in Israel occurred on October 7, the fallout and aftershocks are continuing every single day. Despite Hamas literally videoing, promoting, and memorialize their brutal and heinous attack using all kinds of media, there are still people questioning the scale and depravity of the massacre. In response, Israel held a stunning session for the international press sharing gruesome images of the atrocity so that journalists could document in an undeniable way what happened. Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, in a video announcing the session, said, “As we work to defeat the terror organization that brutalized our people, we are witnessing a Holocaust denial-like phenomenon evolving in real time as people are casting doubt on the magnitude of the atrocities that Hamas committed against our people, and in fact recorded in order to glorify that violence.”
The infiltration, casualties, number of hostages, relentless barrage of rockets, continuous attacks from Gaza and from Lebanon are indeed great reasons for concern, prayers, effort, and support. The world is coming to learn what Israel has known for a long time: she is surrounded by enemies who seek her utter destruction and annihilation. The infamous Hamas charter, written in 1988, doesn’t speak of disputed territory, it reads like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and calls for a genocide against Jews. Hezbollah, Iran and other terror organizations and individuals in the West Bank and elsewhere speak of "from the river to the sea,” a non-subtle euphemism for the destruction of all of Israel.
The last two weeks have seen countless headlines and analyses of the risks of a ground invasion, potential implications for the North in the event of a full-scale war and the possibilities of other nations like Iran or Syria getting involved. Indeed, there is so much to worry about, work on, daven for, and care about.
But, here is the thing. While I daven, advocate, and lose sleep over the safety and security our brothers and sisters right now, I am not worried about the long-term future of Israel. Israel is incredibly resilient, capable, powerful, tenacious, fierce, smart, cunning and strong. Israel will persevere, the IDF will triumph, the people, though deeply wounded, will bounce back. These horrific atrocities have brought the people of Israel together, fostered a united country and people. (I had the privilege to represent our shul and our community this week by bringing supplies, goods, toys, hugs, and love to IDF soldiers and displaced citizens this week. I saw with my own eyes resolve, achdus, and energy the likes of which cannot be believed. I look forward to sharing more with you about this trip in the coming days.)
The people of Israel have revealed that underneath the important, often vociferous debate, is a nation of profound faith, unity and conviction. Israel will emerge stronger than ever.
This week’s Parsha is filled with pesukim and stories that feel so relevant today: Avraham first settling in Israel, Hashem promising the land to Avraham and his descendants, the birth of Yishmael and the fateful promise about his future. One of the central highlights is the Bris Bein Habesarim, the “Covenant of Parts,” in which Hashem tells Avraham about the destiny of his descendants: the slavery and suffering they would endure, and the subsequent redemption and settlement in Israel. The Torah describes how Avraham cut up a calf, a ram, and a goat, but ואת הצפור לא בתר – he did not cut the turtledove that was part of the covenant. Rashi explains that Psukim in Tanach compare other nations to calves, to rams, and to goats, and the Jewish people are compared to doves. The animals representing the other nations were cut up, representing their eventual demise. Why wasn’t the bird cut? רֶמֶז שֶׁיִּהְיוּ יִשְֹרָאֵל קַיָּמִין לְעוֹלָם – To symbolize the promise of the Jewish nation’s everlasting future.
A video clip was circulating this week of an address given by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l, whose third yahrtzeit is next week. So many have expressed how much we miss Rabbi Sacks at times like these, and it brought such comfort hearing his voice at an AIPAC policy conference ten years ago, delivering chizzuk with remarks that sound like they could have been given this week:
I have to tell you that what we grew up with, “never again,” is beginning to sound like “ever again.” And at the heart of it is hostility to Israel. Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. But make no mistake what has happened.
In the Middle Ages Jews were hated because of their religion. In the 19th century and the 20th, they were hated because of their race. Today, when it’s no longer done to hate people for their religion or their race, today they are hated because of their State. The reason changes, but the hate stays the same. Anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism. …
Today what is at stake in Israel’s survival is the future of freedom itself. Because make no mistake, this will be the defining battle of the 21st century, which will prevail: the will to power with its violence, terror, missiles, and bombs; or the will to life with its hospitals, schools, freedoms, and rights. …
Every time I visit Israel I find among Israelis, secular or religious, an absolute unswerving dedication to Moshe Rabbenu’s great command Uvacharta Bachayim, “Choose life.” Israel is the sustained defiance of hatred and power in the name of life because we are the people who sanctify life. …
Judaism is the defeat of probability by the power of possibility. And nowhere will you see the power of possibility more than in the State of Israel today. Israel has taken a barren land and made it bloom again. Israel has taken an ancient language, the language of the Bible, and make it speak again. Israel has taken the West’s oldest faith and made it young again. Israel has taken a shattered nation and make it live again. Friends, let us not rest until Israel’s light shines throughout the world, the world’s great symbol of life and hope.
While we must not stop davening, donating, supporting and visiting, Israel will ultimately be ok. The real question is what will happen next for those Jews living outside of Israel? While even before October 7, everyone knew about the enemies surrounding Israel, few of us truly knew how many enemies were living in our midst and how, given the opportunity, they would boldly and brazenly rear their ugly heads and ideas.
Surely, we thought, taking sides on an issue so clear and obvious like supporting innocent civilians, elderly, children and women who were victims of a series of pogroms and systematic murders versus associating with and sympathizing with, or full-on endorsing wicked and evil terrorists, the choice would be clear. Even if one was regularly critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinian statehood, surely it would be simple to condemn objective atrocities and express sympathy for butchered civilians and kidnapped hostages.
Instead, the last two weeks have been an enormous wakeup call to Jews of the Diaspora. Ivy League universities, once considered bastions of intellectualism, centers of sophistication, capitals of progress and advancement have abandoned their Jewish students, failing to protect them from Hamas-sympathizing fellow students and professors. Long considered spiritually dangerous for Torah Jews, college campuses and others are now literally dangerous physically for those who proudly identify as Jews or supporters of Israel. Every day seems to bring new stories that should shake us all. An Israeli at Columbia got beaten with a stick. Jewish students at Cooper Union were locked in a library while a horde of threatening students, some encouraged by professors, banged on the doors and windows. Jews on campuses across the country are being threatened, harassed, and physically intimidated, while the academics at these institutions issue statements about “escalations of violence” at best or simply casting Hamas’s atrocities as “resistance” and blaming Israel for everything that happened on October 7 at worst. One professor at a prestigious college gave a horrifying speech, captured on video, in which he described feeling “exhilarated” watching the events of October 7 unfold.
The images and videos of pro Hamas rallies in cities across the US, Europe and around the world is shocking, jarring, and downright scary. They have included swastikas and actual calls to “gas the Jews.” We learned that for some, while Black Lives Matter and some other forms of prejudice are so serious and have zero tolerance, Jewish lives don’t matter and antisemitism is open for debate, as organizations purportedly devoted to civil rights and justice were unashamed to celebrate terrorists who paraglided into a rave killing 260 innocent people. We experienced a legacy media that abandoned journalistic principles and practices, all too eager to swallow and regurgitate Hamas propaganda without verification or substantiation.
We witnessed elected Congresspeople stand with the perpetrators over the victims and spread a blood libel falsely accusing Israel of striking a hospital, actions with real consequences.
Of course, we have also witnessed extraordinary expressions and demonstrations of support, from the majority of Congress who passionately and compassionately stand with Israel, to President Biden who has demonstrated enormous support by traveling into a war, asking for significant funding for Israel and steadfastly supporting Israel’s right to defend herself, to zealous advocacy for Israel from many elected officials, including those who stand to alienate themselves in their parties and caucuses, including Congressman Ritchie Torres. We have seen billionaires withdraw their funding and their longstanding ties with universities and institutions that are underserving of them. We have experienced media who were moved to tears over what happened in Israel.
Yes, there are reasons to be hopeful and optimistic but with all the enemies that Israel faces, the safety, security and rights of the Jews in the diaspora feel the most vulnerable and fragile of any point in my lifetime.
Of course, the simple answer to the now-revealed condition of Jews around the world is to move to Israel. Certainly, Israel is our homeland, it is our destiny, and now more than ever we should recognize it should be part of each of our final destinations. Even if we don’t live in Israel now, Aliyah must be a question not of if, but of when, for all of us.
However, realistically, just as throughout our history there were multiple centers of Jewish life and Torah, the likelihood is that the millions of Jews living in the Diaspora are not picking up and moving tomorrow. So what will be? How should we confront the new reality we have seen? While spiritually and now physically unsafe, are there consequences of having universities and college campuses that have no Jewish students, nobody to advocate for Israel, no representatives of our people? Is there more we can do to ensure terrorist sympathizers aren’t elected to any office in this country? Is cancelling subscriptions to legacy media that has a clear bias enough or can more be done to hold journalists accountable? And perhaps most importantly, have the rallies and people despicably tearing down posters of kidnapped Jews changed our security considerations at our Shuls, schools and Jewish communities? Do we continue to trust our outstanding local law enforcement and intelligence who protect us or does our sobering new reality demand elevated security measures for ourselves?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but they need to be consistently spoken about and considered. Israel has changed forever, but so has the world of those who don’t yet live there.